Parking war over Extell’s ‘pre-war’      West End Ave. building

By James Kelly | March 26, 2008 10:34AM

Extell’s new “pre-war” building on the Upper West Side has a very post-war problem: parking.

The developer is battling with a local community board over the fate of an underground parking garage and curb cut for the 20-story luxury condo project at 535 West End Avenue.

And the battle, like most that revolve around parking in New York City, has gotten ugly.

Opponent Batya Lewton, a spokeswoman for the Coalition for a Livable West Side, claims Extell hired “out-of-work actors” to walk the streets near the project and collect petitions in favor of the garage.

She said petitioners were yelling, “Save 20 parking spots on West End Ave.”

But she said that when somebody asked them if they knew the specifics of the issue, they said, “We don’t know, or care, all we know is that we’re getting paid.”

Lewton called Extell’s behavior “pathetic” and “deceitful” and reported it to Community Board 7, which is considering a resolution on the issue.

The president of Extell, Gary Barnett, defended his company’s decision to hire the petitioners.

“This is a free country, and people have the right to have their opinions heard,” Barnett said. When asked if those hired by Extell to canvass for the garage proposal were indeed out-of-work actors, Barnett said: “It doesn’t matter whether it’s unemployed people, it just matters who’s signing the petition.”

After four days of petitioning, resulting in about 300 signatures, Extell ended the campaign, after Community Board 7 complained to the developer that it was “upsetting” residents, said Donna Gargano, Extell’s senior vice president of development. She said that the company didn’t see the problem with the canvassing, but decided to stop because it drew complaints.

“When I heard about [the Community Board’s] complaint it was shocking. I said, ‘this is absolutely un-American,'” Barnett said.

The Coalition for a Livable West Side received 410 votes in opposition to the project, and presented it at the Board’s Transportation Committee. Extell has not yet decided whether it would present the results of its petition to the board.

And, Barnett hasn’t left the fight up to his underlings. He appeared in front of the community board with a Powerpoint presentation to persuade members to give him the green-light for the 20 private parking spots, which is 11 more than the as-of-right-spots the building is allotted.

The community board’s transportation committee has already passed a resolution to reject the garage and the measure is expected to be rejected by the full committee. So, it looks like when the building opens in 2009 that some of those who shelled out between $8 million and $25 million for apartments that are up to 14,000 square feet may have to find parking elsewhere.